Monday Morning Grammar: Pronouns Part IV—Person

As discussed last week, pronouns, like nouns, have four properties—number, person, gender, and case—and should agree with their antecedents in number, person, and gender. We’ve already discussed how pronouns agree with their antecedents in number. Let’s now take a look at person:

Person refers to the point of view of a passage. First person is the writer or speaker’s point of view and uses the pronouns I, we, etc.

I went on a mini road trip with my friend Sandra last week.

Second person is the point of view of the person being written or spoken to and uses you, etc.

You were unable to come along because you had to work.

And third person is the point of view of the person or thing being written or spoken about and uses he, she, it, they, etc.

She wanted to visit her friend Stephen before he moved back to San Diego.

Sometimes a pronoun refers to two or more antecedents that differ in person, but the pronoun can be of only one person. In cases like these, first person is better than second person, and second person is better than third:

You and I should plan a getaway of our own.

Here, you is second person, and I is first person. Both are antecedents to our, but our can be of only one person. Since first person is better than second, use our instead of your.

You and Anthony should plan your trip.

Here, you is second person, and Anthony is third person. Both are antecedents to your, but your can be of only one person. Since second person is better than third, use your instead of their.

This rule only applies, however, when the pronoun refers to both of the connected nouns or pronouns. If a pronoun refers to only one of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by and, or, or nor, then it should take the person of that antecedent:

You and Anthony should make plans for when he has time off.

Do you have a question about pronouns? Let me know, and I’ll include it in a future installment of Mots Justes’ ongoing series.

The Mots Justes Series on Pronouns

Part I—The Basics

Part II—Location, Location, Location

Part III—Number

Resources

Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

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